Saturday 3 October 2009

PoliticsHome, polling and partisanship

I have sent this email to Freddie Sayers, editor of PoliticsHome. See my earlier post for more on the background. His reply is published below.

Dear Freddie,

In the spirit of constructive scrutiny of PoliticsHome's commitment to political independence under the new ownership of Conservative party deputy chairman Michael Ashcroft, I would like to ask some questions about the Electoral Index published today.

1. What information from the Electoral Index is being made publicly available to everybody, and what level of political intelligence from the polling is being made available only on a commercial basis?

2. Can you guarantee that the detailed individual constituency info will be available for sale to any party, MP, candidate or other interested person who wants to buy it? (If there would be any exceptions to this, please describe what they would be, and the reasons for them).

3. What is the total cost to an external customer of purchasing the full detail of the poll for one constituency, and for all constituencies?

4. Members of the British Polling Council commit under its rules to making public the full data-sets of all questions which are publicly reported. Does PoliticsHome believe it can abide by these rules while making constituency-level results (some reported in newspapers today) available only on a commercial basis? Have you asked for advice from and received the explicit endorsement of the British Polling Council for this policy?

5. Most people will reasonably assume that Michael Ashcroft, as owner of the website, will have access to the full polling data.

Is this correct, or have any contractual restrictions been agreed to limit Ashcroft's access to the data from the Electoral Index and/or PoliticsHome's other political research?

One assumes he would have access to the data as the propreitor of PoliticsHome, but please advise if he would have to make any payment (at the market rate, or a reduced rate), which would appear as sales in PoliticsHome's accounts.

6. Has PoliticsHome offered commercial information from political polling and on marginal constituencies to commercial purchasers on an exclusive basis, for either this year or last year's poll? It has been reported that Michael Ashcroft brought much or all of the constituency level data last year, prior to his involvement in holding a controlling stake in the website. Was any of this purchased on an exclusive basis, so that it was not available elsewhere?

7. What explains the change of timing this year - with pre-conference fieldwork being published after the Labour conference and as the Conservative conference opens, rather than before Labour's conference as last year?

I appreciate you will be busy. If it may take some time to answer these questions, any interim indication of when I can expect a full answer would be appreciated.

I am also going to publish these questions on the Fabian Society blog Next Left, in case these questions (and your answers) may be of interest to other academic, civic society, polling, media or Parliamentary voices interested in these issues, many of whom will have more expertise on these issues than I do.

All best wishes

Sunder Katwala

UPDATE, Monday 5th October

Here is a response from Freddie Sayers. As Sayers has said PoliticsHome wants to operate with increased transparency, I appreciate his willingness to answer questions about the commercial side of the marginals poll. (I do stand by my view that his previous answer was rather patronising, as it answered questions nobody had asked and ignored those that were).

From his answer on the Electoral Index, the main change of policy would appear to be to no longer make constituency-level reports and data available for sale to external purchasers this year, citing a "logistical nightmare" in providing that service last year. The full response is here:

Dear Sunder

I am not going to get into a never-ending point by point discussion with you, when you have clearly decided to put a negative spin on whatever I respond with. Last week when I took the time to respond at length to your concerns you dismissed it as "a very weak PR response," and I have no doubt you will do the same with this. But, because I am a sucker, briefly, and for the last time:

On your latest set of questions, I'm sorry to say that despite your evident determination, the attempt to uncover something dodgy or scandalous will not bear fruit.

The PoliticsHome Electoral Index is top quality opinion research, which we have been working very hard on and which we believe to be the most accurate picture of the political landscape there is. Read the research here and visit the interactive map here.

As the Guardian reported, the report "reveals the sort of data usually only seen by campaign strategists deep inside party headquarters" - for free - to anyone, of any party, who is interested. The data spreadsheets for all the published results, in line with the British Polling Council recommendations, are available for download on PoliticsHome here.

In addition, the constituency-level data and questions that are not for publication are being actively offered for sale to interested parties, including all the main political parties, on the same very attractive terms.

We will not offer individual constituency reports this year (it is a logistical nightmare and we need solid assurances that the results will not end up at media outlets as the sample sizes are not appropriate for publication) but any serious enquiries for larger segments of the dataset are very welcome at The more the merrier!

Finally, the change in timing, again, is for an equally unglamourous reason. We wanted to get the fieldwork done closer to the time of publication this year (last year there was a six week gap) so we went right up to the day before the Lib Dem conference on 21st September. This meant we needed a two week turnaround to do the analysis and prepare the results, and we landed on last weekend.

All the best,


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hmm. Last year I enquired about buying one of the constituency data sets and was told (I may even still have the email somewhere - but it was from James Howarth at PolHome) that one buyer had purchased them all on an exclusive basis. No mention of any logistical or other issues.

Also - I find their stance this year to be slightly contradictory to their advertisement for the service last year: